Guilty man sitting with criminal defense attorneys

What to know about a misdemeanor domestic violence arrest in Houston

One of the most common arrests in Houston is for domestic violence, which is known as assault family violence in Texas. Most first-time domestic violence arrests are filed as misdemeanors, although a first-time domestic violence case can also be filed as a felony depending on the facts of the case. If you have been arrested and charged with domestic violence in Houston, you will likely be anxious about your case and unsure of what to expect. This article discusses what it is like to be arrested and charged with domestic violence in Houston. 

As noted, most domestic violence cases are filed as misdemeanors. Under Texas law, a first-time arrest for assault-family violence is charged as a Class “A” misdemeanor, punishable up to a year in jail and a $4000 fine. However, if it is alleged that the case involved choking, serious bodily injury, or the use of a deadly weapon, a first-time domestic violence case can be filed as a felony, with potentially far more serious consequences. 

The reality is that it does not take a lot to be arrested for domestic violence. If you have a fight with your significant other, and the police are called, there is a high likelihood that someone is going to jail if it is alleged that there was any kind of physical violence (even the mere threat of physical violence could lead to a charge of terroristic threat). There is no requirement that there be any kind of physical injuries or independent witness to the alleged domestic violence. 

If you are arrested and charged with domestic violence in Houston, you will typically be taken downtown and processed into the Harris County jail. Being processed into the Harris County jail can be a slow process and you must wait until you see a magistrate judge before you post your bond. Once your bond amount is set, someone can post a bond on your behalf at the Harris County Bail Bond Window at 700 N San Jacinto, or you may be granted a free bond (known as a personal recognizance or “PR” bond). 

The magistrate judge will also typically issue a protective order and bond conditions that you must follow. In a domestic violence case, it is important to understand that bond conditions and a protective order are distinct orders that elapse at different times. In Texas, a protective order in a domestic violence case is typically active for 60 or 90 days and prohibits communication with the alleged victim in the case, and could prevent your from going to the alleged victim’s home or place of work. Bond conditions in a domestic violence case do not expire and will stay in effect until the case is resolved. 

In Houston, a magistrate judge will only set your bond amount and conditions. When you bond out of jail, you will typically have a court date set at whatever court your case is assigned to within a week or so. At your “home court” the judge will typically review the bond conditions set by a magistrate judge. Although there is typically no rush to hire a criminal defense attorney in a domestic violence case, one advantage of having an attorney at your first court date is that your attorney can advocate on your behalf with respect to any bond conditions that are problematic to you. 

If you are alleged to have committed domestic violence against your spouse, for example, one major problem with the conditions issued in your case could be the residency restriction in a protective order or bond condition prohibiting you from going to the home of the alleged victim (which is also likely your address). Fortunately, in many first-time domestic violence cases, judges are willing to amend such a restriction. But to amend such a condition, many judges will want to talk to the alleged victim to confirm that they want the defendant back in the home. There is a lot to consider when modifying bond conditions in a domestic violence case, but an experienced criminal defense attorney can help to guide you through this process. 

Once your bond conditions are set, then your attorney should begin gathering the evidence. In a typical domestic violence case, a defense attorney will need to obtain offense reports, body camera videos, witness statements, 911 recordings and medical records. In Houston, the process of gathering the evidence in a domestic violence case typically take 6 months or more. Obtaining the evidence in a domestic violence case is critical because it will allow the defense attorney to evaluate the case and also make it possible to obtain a thorough statement from the alleged victim or any other witnesses. 

The goal of a domestic violence case is dismissal. Although most domestic violence cases are filed as misdemeanors, the reality is that the consequences of a domestic violence conviction can be as severe as many felonies due to the stigma associated with domestic violence and some of the secondary consequences of a conviction, such as the loss of the right to possess a firearm. 

Fortunately, an experienced domestic violence attorney can help you maximize your chances of keeping a conviction off of your record. If you have been charged with domestic violence anywhere in the Greater Houston area, call Ceja Law Firm today.